The Girl with the Pearl Earring is Back in Town


You have probably seen her around before: the girl with the pearl earring, if not because of its place as one of the masterpieces of Dutch portraiture of the 17th century, then because of the well-known book, movie or play that featured her as a character. If you haven’t had the chance to meet her yet or want to get to know her better, don’t worry; beginning Oct. 22, 30 years since her last visit to New York, Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl With The Pearl Earring” is back in town, and is residing a few blocks from Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC).

ARTS_girlpearlearring:unknown photographerBecause of restorations, the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis—the home museum of “the Girl,” in The Hague, in the Netherlands—had already lent the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in 1984. This year, during its second renovation, the Dutch museum lent the piece as part of the show “Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting From the Mauritshuis”, to The Frick Collection, the last destination of its American tour after the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. As strong as the draw is to see “the Girl”, as an institution, The Frick might generate ambivalence among students. Some might find it more intimidating to visit in comparison to another institution like The Met.

The Frick admittedly has an off-putting history, which could deter students, especially if they know the story of Henry Clay Frick, a New York capitalist and art patron in the 1900s. “I understand why students might feel like this towards this institution,” Nina Rowe said, Fordham’s chair and associate professor of art history. “He was pretty much hated in the New York scene, his family left his house as a great gift to the New York City community, but he was definitely a cruel capitalist,” Rowe said.

Anna Devine, FCLC ’16,  a student passionate about art, said that she does see why The Frick might be seen as intimidating. “It is a high scale museum,” but she actually enjoys visiting it more than visiting the Met. “I don’t think it is intimidating because it is a small environment and it is really like walking through someone’s home,” Devine said. “It’s not as overwhelming as the Metropolitan Museum, I find it very peaceful there,” Devine said, when asked why she would recommend it to Fordham students. “You are not in a massive crowd, you don’t need a map to know where you are going, you can find your way in the museum itself, and you really have time to look at the pictures and take them in.”

Intimidating or not, the painting, and the entire exhibition, is worth seeing. With its small size and attention to light and color, “Girl With The Peal Earring” represents a revolution in both Dutch portraiture and society. After the Dutch Republic freed itself from the domain of the Spaniards and the Roman Church, the middle class emerged and artists started to paint for the people. “Artists of the time, such as Vermeer and his fellow artists Rembrandt and Hals were making paintings not for the Church or the authority anymore, but they were portraying regular people” Rowe said. “This was something really new.”

It is easy to think that the majority of people would want to see the painting because they have read the novel “The Girl With the Pearl Earring,” by Tracy Chevalier, have seen the movie or, perhaps, the theatre production. This is something that might distract the viewer from Vermeer’s painting itself. Rowe said to “actually appreciate” the awareness that these have given to the painting. “What they have done is make something that could seem so elite and rarified and not accessible into something that people can identify or connect with it” Rowe said. “We shouldn’t keep artworks at a distance as The Frick tries to do on some degree,” Rowe said. “I hope that people will stop and look at the actual thing.” Rowe believes people should really stop and analyze the painting and not take it for granted just because they have seen it many times. “Just because they know the novel or just because they are familiar with the movie, the painting is actually something different from those two things.”

Because of its status , the painting has been called “the Dutch Mona Lisa”—definitely an important nickname, but like other popular works of art, the audience might even be less likely to analyze it less precisely and feel more inclined to ignore it, since it’s already so familiar.

However, both Rowe and Devine confirm that it is best to look at the painting without drawing that parallel. “I think it is a fair nickname in the sense that it has acquired that status in the popular understanding,” Rowe said. “I don’t know how you would determine equivalence, but yes, they are both portraits of women.” Devine, on the students part, said “I do see definitely how people can draw that kind of parallel but my advice would be to look at it without that kind of connection,” Devine said. “Art is subjective to everyone so I don’t believe that anyone should look at a piece with any kind of perception.”

The exhibition also features the works of other celebrated artists. “Other works besides ‘the Girl’ can be just as captivating, if not more, because they are unfamiliar,” Rowe said. “She is so familiar that it is easy to look at her and not look carefully, but, if you are looking at something else, you might find things that are surprising.”

The technique of these portraits is astonishingly precise. For instance, Vermeer successfully transmitted  “the Girl’s” vitality through the innocent gloomy gaze that she gives while looking over her shoulder. “Vermeer is a master in everything he does because of the glow from within that all of his pictures have” Rowe said with regards to Vermeer’s technique. Indeed, anyone visiting the Oval Room of The Frick, where the painting is displayed, will see that “the Girl” actually seems illuminated from the natural light of the window of the room.

The show in general presents other important works such as Ruisdael’s “View of Haarlem With Bleaching,” described as “the most beautiful painting on earth” by a New York Times writer. There are three paintings by Vermeer, acquired by Henry Frick during his life that have since been part of the Frick collection. “It is an opportunity to see things that are different, that you are not going to see [here in New York]. I encourage students to go in and try and be surprised and look carefully and see if you find something being weird and that leads to questions—that’s where you get to a richer understanding of the task” Rowe said.


“Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting From the Mauritshuis”

When: Oct. 22 – Jan. 19.
Where: 1 East 70th St.
Price: In order to prevent overcrowding, tickets must be reserved in advance on the Frick Collection’s website or by calling 212-239-6200. Student tickets are $15.